U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East reportedly asked, during last week’s meeting, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction in Jerusalem and outside the large settlement blocs. According to Al Ray, Netanyahu expressed reservations at an official freeze.
Channel 2 News reported, on Wednesday, that Jason Greenblatt, who visited Israel last week, asked Netanyahu to freeze construction in isolated settlements and restrict it to East Jerusalem and outside the large settlement blocs.
In addition, Washington also reportedly asked to set a fixed number of houses that can be built each year.
The Israeli security cabinet has rejected these requests, demanding that Israel has the right to build in any part of the West Bank.
Israel is likely to try to retain the existing status quo in Syria since it has benefited from the ongoing conflict in the war-torn neighboring nation, political analyst Sergei Balmasov asserted, saying that Tel Aviv’s combat missions are not aimed at President Bashar al-Assad, but are rather meant to prevent the crisis from being resolved.
“Israel is deeply interested in the ongoing standoff between the Sunnis and the Shia. Tel Aviv wants them to continue killing each other. Nothing presents a threat to Israel as long as this war is ongoing. The Israeli Air Force launches airstrikes against Shia militias in Syria, tipping the balance. This evens out the chances and the war drags on,” he told RT.
Balmasov, an expert at the Middle East Institute at the Russian International Affairs Council, also suggested that Israel could use a border incident to move its forces into southern Syria.
“One could not rule out that Israel does not deploy its troops to the southern buffer zone which borders the Golan Heights to create a territorial entity on the basis of Druze settlements using some kind of an incident as a pretext,” he said.
Israel has largely refrained from taking an active part in the devastating Syrian conflict, but has occasionally sent its warplanes to launch airstrikes on Hezbollah in a bid to eliminate its leaders and destroy its weapons. Several such missions are reported to have taken place in recent days in what marks the most serious incident between Tel Aviv and Damascus since the 2011 foreign-sponsored insurgency in Syria morphed into a large-scale war.
It started on Friday, with the Israeli Air Force launching airstrikes on several Hezbollah targets near the Syrian city of Palmyra, close to an area where Russian experts have been engaged in demining efforts following the successful campaign to push Daesh out of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The operation prompted the Syrian Arab Army to launch three anti-aircraft missiles at the departing Israeli planes, with Israel’s Arrow missile defense system intercepting one of the projectiles.
The incident sparked a war of words among high-ranking officials on both sides. On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman pledged that Tel Aviv would destroy all Syrian air defense systems “without thinking twice” should a similar situation occur in the future. Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Tel Aviv would continue to carry out airstrikes on convoys suspected of transferring advanced weapons to Hezbollah.President Bashar al-Assad reiterated that it was Damascus’ right and duty to defend Syrian borders.
“Why has Israel squared off against the Syrian Arab Army? Israel views the SAA’s links to Hezbollah as unacceptable. Tel Aviv is concerned that the group could become stronger,” Irina Zvyagelskaya, a senior research fellow at the Center for Arab and Islamic Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told RT.
Israel considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization and views the Lebanon-based Shia movement, one of Assad’s key allies in Damascus’s war against Daesh, to be one of the top security threats.
A report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), especially prepared for the US Congress and the Trump administration, finds what should be called a magnanimous failure of the US in achieving any of its major objectives in Afghanistan even after spending almost 16 years in the country. Ironic though it may sound, this report, along with its list of grave threats that the US needs to tackle, endorses the war as, what Trump himself has called, totally “disastrous” for the US. While the actual intention behind the preparation of this report seems to be to impress upon the president and the Congress to sanction more funds, commit more US troops and continue the rehabilitation programme (read: Trump has vowed to end the programme), it ends up enlisting the US’ multiple failures in Afghanistan, ranging from eliminating the Taliban completely to restoring even a semblance of peace and establishing a strong security force in the war torn country. Hence, the question: will commitment of more resources (funds and troops) to Afghanistan make any difference, especially when the proposed increase is nothing compared to what the US had committed and continued to utilize for years after it invaded Afghanistan in 2001?
It is worth recalling that since 2001, around 2250 US military personnel have died and over 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan and the war is not over—yet. Apart from it, as the report notes, the US has spent more money in Afghanistan than it collectively spent to reconstruct the whole Europe after the Second World War, marking this the “largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our (US) nation’s history.” Given the scale of the loss, it cannot be gainsaid that it is also the greatest failure the US has suffered ever since. And as the report highlights, “after 15 years the task is incomplete.”
Afghanistan, for the US, remains a “high risk” territory—something that warrants, the US policy makers think, a long-term military presence. Despite spending a whopping US$70 billion on establishing Afghan security forces—almost half of the reconstruction budget going to this particular sector of national reconstruction— the report finds that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) remain acutely incapable of tackling the war on their own.
While the report places the onus of responsibility on Afghan forces for ceding territory to the Taliban, the fact remains that the US forces have not left the country either and remain militarily engaged.
According to the US-Afghanistan Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (BSA), the very purpose of retaining a significant strength of US troops and military personnel is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty.”
However, despite the fact that two years have passed since the agreement was signed, no major progress has been seen in terms of the Afghan forces’ ability to recover territory from the Taliban. On the contrary, as the SIGAR report notes, “approximately 63.4% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of August 28, 2016, a decrease from the 70.5% reported as of January 29, 2016.”
What this indicates is that the US has been unable to achieve, so far, its publicly stated objectives. According to the SIGAR report, the other “high risk” areas include corruption, sustainability, on-budget support, counter-narcotics, contract management, oversight, strategy and planning.
Curiously enough, SIGAR does not mention the rising threat of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and the threat it is posing to the regions surrounding this country. The regions surrounding Afghanistan include Central Asia, South Asia and China.
Were the Islamic State to be allowed, by not taking action against it, to spread in Afghanistan and be able to set foothold in this region, it will spread utter devastation—something that will directly serve the US interest against Russia and China. Not only will it jeopardize China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project but will also cause a manifold increase in the threats of ISIS finding support in China’s Xinjiang province and in Central Asia states i.e., Russia’s “under belly.”
No wonder, the US doesn’t see ISIS as a “real threat” to their interests in Afghanistan because it is not, as yet, posing any direct threat. For the US, the primary threat remains the Taliban and the imperative of silencing their movement remains the primary objective.
It is for this reason that both China and Russia have found a justifiable reason in establishing contacts both with the Afghan government and the Taliban in order to prevent ISIS from gaining foothold in Afghanistan. While China has already started to conduct counter-terror operations in co-operation with Kabul, Russia is equally setting itself up to lead the peace process by holding a global peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow.
What are Trump’s options for an un-winnable war?
Given the dark scenario depicted in the report, it seems that the US military is deeply interested in raising troop levels in Afghanistan. But the question is: will sending more troops do any good when 16 years of war have led only to deterioration? What it will do is intensify the war with the Taliban and provide ISIS a ready-made scenario to gain strength.
It is obvious that the US cannot win the war against the Taliban. As a matter of fact, the question of actually winning the war has lost whatever significance it previously had. Therefore, the new question that must be raised and duly addressed is how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another Levant?
It is again self-evident that ISIS doesn’t figure as a threat in the US officials’ calculation. Therefore, China and Russia must step up their efforts and help negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan’s role is crucial in this regard and fortunately enough, both Russia and China are on good terms with Afghanistan’s immediate and most important neighbour.
Therefore, the best option for the US/the Trump administration is to engage with countries that can actually pave the way for settlement. On the contrary, were the US to continue to walk the lonely path in Afghanistan, it will continue to progressively lose space and momentum to China-Pakistan-Russia nexus just as it lost space and advantage in Syria after Russia started its own military campaign in September 2015. As such, with Russia and China willing to facilitate a peace settlement, the US needs to tap into this opportunity and turn the “disastrous war” into a meaningful settlement.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs.
The authorities of the self-proclaimed Kosovo republic have decided to confiscate up to 200 billion euros’ worth of real estate of the former Yugoslavia’s Serbia and Kosovo Province, adding pressure to an already strained relationship between Pristina and Belgrade.
The Kosovo cadastral agency has been instructed to immediately register all real estate, amounting to more than 2 million square meters of buildings, including a ski resort and a mining complex, but also land, as the property of Kosovo.
Meanwhile, according to the Serbian cadaster agency, Serbian immovable property in Kosovo amounts to 1 million square meters and Serbian-owned enterprises in the region are valued at about 200 billion euros.
The region’s strategic natural resources “privatized” by the Pristina government include almost 15 billion tons of lignite and over 42 billion tons of lead and zinc.
Reacting to the news, Serbian First Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the decision was “completely illegal, and unacceptable.”
No serious investor will spend money in Kosovo based on this decision of the government in Pristina — “because they won’t know whose property it is in the end,” he added.
According to the former head of the Kosovo cadastral agency, Slavica Radomirovic, 58 percent of industrial enterprises and real estate in Kosovo belong to Serbia and its citizens as proved by original documents taken out of the region after the 1999 war.
Radomirovic warned that the Kosovo authorities had prepared their own cadaster books based on forged data.
In an interview with Sputnik Serbia, Dusan Prorokovic, an expert with the Belgrade-based Strategic Alternative Fund, said that Pristina prefers to resolve all disputes with Belgrade by military force and that all it really wants is property.
“All they are doing was previously approved by the Obama Administration. They started with a demand for a Kosov army and within the next few weeks we could expect further such steps by Pristina. They know that the international community will look on as a new balance of forces is emerging in the Balkans,” he said.
Political analyst Dusan Janjic said that all this was a logical continuation of the EU-launched process of illegal privatization of Serbian property in Kosovo.
“Pristina is speeding up this whole process across the board. Just like its [Western] sponsors, it wants things like the army and property cut out for it before they start a dialogue in a new format,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kosovo Vice-Premier Branimir Stojanovic told the Serbian TV channel RTS that the decision to confiscate Serbian property in Kosovo was legally null and void and could seriously complicate relations with Belgrade.
He added that the decision was taken behind closed doors without asking the opinion of Serbian representatives in the regional parliament.
Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized by over 100 UN member states. Serbia, as well as Russia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
Dear Israeli Government:
You’ve recently banned foreigners who support boycotts against Israel or Israeli settlements from being allowed to enter Israel – even Jewish foreigners, a first for the self-proclaimed Jewish state After all, your “Law of Return” has allowed (and encouraged) Jewish foreigners to freely immigrate to Israel, even as multitudes of Palestinians have been banned from returning to their homes.
People throughout the Western world have objected in outrage to your new law, particularly Jewish Westerners who have family and connections in Israel from whom they’ll be cut off in retaliation for their political positions.
Critics, even some who oppose boycotting Israel and who have had no problem with excluding Palestinians, have called out the law for diverse reasons: its quashing of free debate and political expression, its anti-democratic nature, how it will affect them and others personally.
I support these objections.
But I’m not trying to visit Israel.
I want to go to Bethlehem and Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarem. I hope to return to Khan Yunis, Rafah, Gaza City, and numerous other towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza.
In other words, I want to go to Palestine – a country recognized by 136 countries around the world. But your law, astoundingly, prevents me from visiting that country. You control entry and exit to the places I want to visit, even though they’re not part of your territory, or included in your exclusive democracy.
When I was born, Palestine referred to the whole of the land that your founders then ethnically cleansed and renamed. Now, it officially refers to a few segments of land, surrounded and trapped.
Unlike the residents of every other country on earth, Palestinians are not free to travel to and from their own country unless a foreign country gives them permission – a normally universal right that you routinely deny: to young and old, Muslims and Christians, professors and paupers, men and women.
Visitors are similarly obstructed. You decide whether they can get in, and whether they can get out.
When I try to visit Bethlehem, for example, I must face your armed soldiers manning the Kafkaesque, towering concrete wall you have erected on Palestinian land. These gun-toting youngsters will decree whether or not I and others – including Palestinian descendants of Bethlehem’s ancient shepherds – can pass through.
In other words, Israel is essentially imprisoning over 4 million men, women, and children (with some help from Egypt, its proxy to the south). Israeli jailers, euphemistically “border guards,” determine who may even visit this incarcerated population, and what supplies may reach them.
Over the years I’ve seen you prevent numerous individuals and groups, many bringing medicines and life-saving supplies, from visiting this captive population. You’ve blocked sons from visiting dying mothers, suffering children from receiving critical medical care, malnourished toddlers from receiving help.
It is a profound shame upon the world that this cruel and unconscionable condition has been permitted to persist year after year. There should have been massive and irresistible objections long before your recent legislation.
I remember when the United States opposed the Iron Curtain. Today, the U.S. gives the perpetrator of this current captivity $10 million per day.
Israel already denied me entry once 15 years ago, locking me up for 28 hours in a detention cell in Ben Gurion Airport before expelling me. I remember Israeli officials telling me I was not “allowed into Israel.” They didn’t even supply a reason.
Next time, they may say it’s because I endorse BDS, which I wholeheartedly do.
But I’m not trying to go to Israel. I want to go to Palestine.
– Alison Weir
Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
Speech by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayed Hassan Nasrallah on March 18, 2017, on the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of Fatima al-Zahra (as), Women’s Day
Extract of the Political Section of the Speech
Today, or (rather) these days are actually a (special) opportunity, namely that the events in Syria and the war waged against Syria have entered their seventh year. That is to say, six years have passed, with all that they contain in terms of sufferings, wars, conspiracies, confrontations and sacrifices of human lives. With the end of the sixth year and the beginning of the seventh, we must stop briefly on this occasion, because it concerns us also in the first place.
All those who met in the first few months of the beginning of the events six years ago of state forces, great powers, regional countries, 140, 130 or 120 countries that have gathered under the name of “Friends Of Syria” and who plotted, doing everything they could (against Syria). They bet on their ability to seize Syria in 2 or 3 months in 2011. Today, with the end of the 6th year, they face a bloody and painful truth, namely rout and failure. After six years, these powerful and important countries of the world and the region have failed, a bitter failure, in achieving their goals.
For six years, tens of billions of dollars of Arab money – Turkey did not spend money, France and the United Kingdom did not spend money. All the money that financed the war in Syria is Arab money. This money could have eliminated the poverty of the Arab world. It could have brought Somalia out of famine and Yemen as well. It could have (re)built the houses of the Palestinians in Gaza. It could have strengthened the Palestinians at Bayt-al-Maqdis (Sanctuary House / Jerusalem). This money could have guaranteed hundreds of thousands of job opportunities for unemployed Arab youth. It could have ended the illiteracy of hundreds of millions, unfortunately, tens of millions of men and women in the Arab world who are illiterate. Not a single dollar has been spent on these problems, but tens of billions of dollars of Arab money have been spent on the war in Syria, against Syria, its regime, its state, its army and its people, and against the Resistance Axis within it.
And tens, hundreds of thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition (were sent there). And they came from all over the world with tens of thousands of fighters, white, black, brown, red, yellow, whatever you want. They have left no side, no color, no tongue, no race, they have brought fighters from every spot of the whole world. The Americans, their allies, the plotters funded and facilitated (sending fighters) and brought tens of thousands of fighters to fight in Syria to achieve a clear and precise goal: to bring down Syria, to get it out of the Resistance Axis and take control of it. To take control of its decisions, its sovereignty, its people and its choices on its territory, and its strategic position on the Mediterranean Sea (between Asia) and Europe, and its strategic position in the struggle against the Israeli enemy.
Today, the result is clear: failure, defeat and retreat.
Well, let me remind you a bit, at the beginning of the 7th year, about the beginning of the first year. We do not deny that some of the people really wanted reforms and changed some realities in Syria. But what came (on the scene) with force and changed all that are the takfiri forces that were brought from all over the world, and who refused political dialogue in the first weeks. They refused any political outcome, any discussion, and their choices were definitive: they went to the bloody, general and total military confrontation. They have formulated sectarian slogans and revived (religious) school quarrels, and have lifted the veil on their objectives and their hostility towards the Resistance in the first weeks.
Well, who brought the al-Qaeda organization? When they arrived in Syria, what was their name? The Islamic State in Iraq. They then added “and in the Levant” (Syria). Then they divided, the members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant divided. There were two factions: Daesh and the Al-Nosra Front. But in truth, they all belong to al-Qaeda, which is listed by the Americans on the list of terrorist organizations, as well as by the UN Security Council, by Saudi Arabia and by Europe. They brought tens of thousands of fighters, whom they regarded as terrorists themselves, gave them money and weapons, opened borders and brought them to Syria. They recognize that they themselves created (these groups), that they created Daesh to fight the Resistance and the Resistance Axis.
Today, the situation is different. I do not want to dwell on this point, and I will just focus on the new elements.
I want to remind you first of all that in the first year, the question did not require much political understanding, and that there was no need to make predictions and wait (and see). Anyone who had studied contemporary experiences in Afghanistan and elsewhere could reach the following conclusion, as I told them in the first months, I addressed the Al-Qaeda organization and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Daesh and the Al-Nosra Front who separated from it, and I said to them: “All of you of all nationalities, you were brought to Syria to gather you there, you were brought to Syria – now, anyone can check this out from 6 years ago – you were brought to Syria to gather you there and use you as combatants to achieve the American-Israeli goals in the region and when you will be pressed to the end, whether you have won or lost, you will be liquidated. We collect you (en masse) in order to liquidate you after having used you. You have been used… – and that is why I called them initially to be careful and wake up, and not to turn into wood and fuel for the fire lit by America and Israel as well as some regional countries, against whom they also plot, and who will pay the price. But sectarianism, foolishness, ignorance and stupidity have given them no opportunity (of lucidity).
They thought they were very smart, they believed that they were instrumentalizing America, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the countries of the world and the West so that they’d allow them to implement their own project in Syria. And they wrote all that in their strategic projects. And that was the pinnacle of stupidity.
Today, what happens? After Daesh became an object of scandal for the American project here, Daesh sees its last days in Iraq – (it’s a question of) weeks, months, (but) it’s over. Daesh has no military or political future in Iraq. And similarly in Syria, Daesh no longer has any military or political future in Syria. At best, they will have dormant cells that will carry out suicide bombings because the suicide bombings targeting civilians in Baghdad, Tikrīt, Damascus, Homs and elsewhere reflect strategic and military failure. When someone sends suicide bombers to kill children, women, in restaurants, passers-by, schoolchildren and students, this reflects his strategic failure and military failure. These are acts of vengeance, not of fighting. This is the future of Daesh. The future of Al-Nosra is the same.
Today, Daesh is bombed by the international coalition led by the United States, Britain, Turkey, Jordan, as well as Russia and the forces fighting them in Syria. And the Al-Nosra Front, the Al-Nosra Front brought (and supported) by the Americans and their Turkish and Gulf allies, the Al-Nosra Front is now bombed in Idlib and at the West of Aleppo. Is not that what I told you six years ago? Now we hear voices rising from Idlib and West of Aleppo against America, its betrayals and hypocrisy. Did you sleep well? After destroying Syria, after destroying Iraq, after destroying Yemen, you finally wake up and you understand? (You realize the nature of) this treacherous and hypocritical America, who uses you then massacres you? That is the truth.
And with that, of course, Israel interferes every day, with various pretexts. The pretext of striking weapons intended for Hezbollah, as they claimed yesterday, for any pretext: on the pretext that a mortar shell hit the Golan (occupied), etc., Israel intervenes and strikes positions of the Syrian Army in order to provide support and assistance to Daesh and these (other) terrorist groups. Today, this arrogant and occupying project, the project of hegemony and control over Syria, I frankly declare to you that it has failed, and that Syria has won, but that it is still waiting for the great and decisive victory. As for the rest of the factions, Daesh will disappear. And the Al-Nosra Front will disappear. And the terrorist takfiri groups will disappear. It is only a matter of time.
Even the world that supported, funded, helped and assisted them has now abandoned them and is fighting them. For the spell has turned against the sorcerer. For the world has discovered that this serpent which he has raised in his bosom (and launched against Syria) has become a danger and a poison to him, in Paris, London, Germany, Belgium, inside Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, etc.
The rest of the factions of the Syrian opposition, what is their current situation? They have no leader, no leadership, no united front, no national project, they don’t know what they want, they are divided, lost, and wander between (foreign) embassies and security services. Yes, there is still a bet on patriotic personalities or cadres of the opposition, that they can participate in the political solution and dialogue to rebuild Syria.
Today, for the commemoration of the birth of (Fatima al-Zahra), the daughter of the Prophet of God, who was sent to the worlds as a Mercy, allow me to renew my address to all those still fighting in Syria in the enemy front, and who believe that they are fighting in the front of Islam, the front of the (Islamic) Community or the front of the Fatherland, and who are 100% wrong. Allow me to appeal to them, to address them and tell them: this project has failed. Your struggle is in vain and leads to nothing but more deaths, battles and destruction, and bloodshed on both sides, which benefits America and Israel.
Look, Netanyahu went to Moscow imploring. Why? He went to intercede with President Putin because he is afraid of the defeat of Daesh in Syria. For the defeat of Daesh for Putin – excuse me, for Netanyahu, constitutes a victory for the Resistance and the Resistance Axis. Because for Netanyahu, Daesh’s defeat in Syria is a failure of the project he has supported for 6 years. So he went to beg (Putin). Oh, what do you do with Daesh, calm down with Daesh! For if you finish Daesh, what are you going to do with Iran, Hezbollah, President Assad, and the rest of the Resistance Axis?
Do not believe, (you Daesh fighters), that you are on the Front of Islam, the Community or the Fatherland. Whether you realize it or not, you have fought for 6 years on the Front of America and Israel and the Front of those who plot against you to kill you, imprison you and massacre you. Will not all this blood poured in Syria and Iraq awaken you? Is not that enough to reconsider things? I call upon them to lay down their arms, to cease fighting, to a real ceasefire, to seek a genuine humanitarian and political solution, to leave the front of hypocrisy for the front of Islam, leave Israel and America for the front of the Community, and leave the front of the enemy for the front of the Resistance. And it is still possible. It is still possible. (I call them to) stop these destructions. Your project has no future.
The Resistance Axis, as we said in the first days and months, today, after six years, from the beginning, we declared that the Resistance Axis would not be defeated in Syria, neither in Iraq, nor in Yemen, and that it would not break. And now that six years have passed, the Resistance Axis triumphs in Syria, and it triumphs in Iraq, and it is steadfast in Yemen where it will also win, if God wills, a great decisive victory. But these people must be aware of what they do with their lives, their blood, their future and their afterlife, and they must reconsider all their bloody actions that persist in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
Is the NDP establishment scared to have party members discuss Canada’s international posture?
At the party’s first leadership debate last weekend there wasn’t a single foreign policy question despite a host of contentious recent party positions on international affairs.
Certainly at a time when the mainstream media is giving prominence to militarist voices, many members would be keen to hear the four candidates’ positions on military spending. The party’s 2015 platform said an NDP government would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations.” In addition to backing Stephen Harper’s budget allocations, the NDP aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion). Defence critic Jack Harris bemoaned “Conservative delays” undermining “our navy from getting wanted equipment” and the platform said the NDP would “carry forward the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to ensure Canada has the ships we need” even if this naval build-up strengthens Canadian officials’ capacity to bully weaker countries.
It would also be good to know the candidates’ views on the Trudeau government repeatedly isolating Canada from world opinion regarding Palestinian rights. In November, for instance, Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN motions titled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan” and “persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities.” One hundred and fifty-six countries voted in favour of the motions, but the NDP stayed silent on the UN votes.
During the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as the party’s candidate in a Nova Scotia riding because he accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, when it killed 2,200 mostly civilians in the summer of 2014. Do leadership candidates plan to continue purging critics of Israel?
The grassroots would also be interested to know the candidates’ views on Ottawa ramping up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep. The NDP backed the 2014 coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe. During a 2015 election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called for stronger sanctions against Russian officials and last summer NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of ratcheting up tensions with Russia. Alongside ongoing deployments in Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops will soon be deployed to Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.
Are the candidates troubled by the protracted civil war in Libya that grew out of NATO’s bombing? In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya, which was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations (see my The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy for details). Additionally, the NATO forces explicitly contravened the UN resolutions sanctioning a no-fly zone by dispatching troops and expanding the bombing far beyond protecting civilians, while Ottawa directly defied the two Libya-related UN resolutions by selling drones to the rebels.
It would also be good to hear the candidates speak out against diplomatic efforts to promote mining interests abroad or Ottawa signing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs) to protect mineral corporations in Africa.
But party insiders likely don’t want to discuss foreign policy because there is a substantial gap between members’ views on the issues and what the dominant media considers acceptable. The party’s grassroots would be open to reducing the $20 billion (plus) military budget and withdrawing from NATO. A good number would also be concerned about stoking tension with Russia and a new poll confirms that NDP members — and most Canadians — are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society’s call to boycott that country.
Fundamentally, party insiders do not want to rock the foreign policy status quo boat. The media backlash that would result from adopting progressive foreign policy positions terrifies the NDP establishment. Even debating the subjects mentioned above would drop the party’s stock in the eyes of the dominant media.
But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe being perceived as outside the mainstream political consensus — fresh ideas and promoters of open debate — is exactly what the NDP needs.
If a leadership campaign is not a time for a rigorous foreign policy debate, when is?
Yves Engler is the author of A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation.
Israeli Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged after an illegal Israeli air strike on Syrian troops in Palmyra. In his statement, he predictably disregarded international law, but he also made what can only be described as a thinly veiled threat against Russia.
He went on to say,
Just who could ‘everyone’ imply. Could the Israeli leader be threatening Russia?
It seems that he is.
Russia has been a consistent ally of the Syrian Arab Republic in her war against terrorism. Israel, which has been an enemy of Syria since the 1940s, is deeply desirous for regime change in one of the few Arab states left, which still pursues an independent foreign policy, one which is openly pro-Palestine.
As a result of Netanyahu’s provocative remarks, Moscow summoned the Israeli Ambassador to Russia to clarify the remarks. Russia is in a unique position as a power that is an ally of Syria, a traditional friend of Palestine, but also a power that Israel listens to and does not want to overtly upset.
Indeed, Netanyahu was in Moscow just over a week ago. If Israel thinks it is in a position to provoke Russia and threaten Russia into changing its established policy in Syria, they really ought to think again.
One must remain hopeful that the Israeli Ambassador got a stern warning from Russia, something along the lines of, ‘stay out of Syria and stay out of our business in Syria as a legal partner of Damascus’.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in brazen remarks that his regime will continue to conduct military attacks against Hezbollah targets inside Syria, a day after Tel Aviv had to admit airstrikes inside Syrian territory.
Israeli warplanes intruded Syrian airspace on Friday, striking several targets near the ancient city of Palmyra in the central part of the Arab country. The Syrian government said it had fired anti-aircraft missiles at the intruding Israeli jets. It said one warplane had been shot down and another damaged.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the incursion on Saturday, claiming that the strikes targeted weapons shipments to Hezbollah.
“When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah and we have intelligence and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it,” he alleged. “That’s how it was yesterday and that’s how we shall continue to act.”
Hezbollah defended Lebanon against Israeli wars in 2000 and 2006. It has helped both prevent and contain the spillover into Lebanon of a terrorist campaign going on in Syria. The resistance movement has also been aiding the Syrian government in its own battle against extremist militants inside Syria.
The Syrian army has called the latest Israeli airstrikes “a desperate attempt” to help the Takfiri terrorist group of Daesh.
Israel, on the other hand, has been contributing to the terrorist campaign in Syria with the strikes against Hezbollah and the Syrian military and by offering medial treatment for the anti-Damascus militants in the Israeli-occupied Syrian territory of Golan Heights.
Last September, an Israeli lawmaker said Tel Aviv was directly aiding the terrorist group formerly known as al-Nusra Front in the Golan Heights.
In a message posted on his Facebook page and quoted by the daily Haaretz, Knesset member Akram Hasoon said Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, as the group is currently known, was bombing the Druze village of Khadr in non-occupied Golan with Israeli Minister for Military Affairs Avigdor Lieberman’s support and protection.
The Israeli regime every now and then hits targets inside Syrian territory in strikes that typically go unclaimed. While Netanyahu admitted for the first time in April 2016 that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons for Hezbollah in Syria, the Tel Aviv regime refuses to claim individual attacks.
It was forced to admit the Friday airstrikes, though, because its jets had been attacked by the Syrian military in that incursion.
Aiming for a state on the resistance front
Speaking to Press TV, Richard Becker, an expert with the ANSWER Coalition anti-war group, and London-based journalist and political commentator Richard Millet offered their takes on the Israeli attacks in Syria.
Millet claimed that the air raids had been “an act of self-defense” stopping Hezbollah from using those weapons against Israel. He also alleged that the strikes were “against… the takeover of Syria by Iran.”
Becker, however, said that Tel Aviv sought “to destroy Syria,” which has served as “a frontline state against the practices and policies of Israel, [i.e.] suppressing the Palestinian people and waging war on the Arab people and other people throughout the region.”
“Israel has long wanted to bring about regime change in Syria; and, if they can break up the Syrian state, that’s… seen by them [as being] in their interest,” he said.
Blockaders cover the Front Gate at the Luftwaffe’s Buchel Air Base in Germany, which deploys and trains to use up to 20 U.S. B61 hydrogen bombs on Germany Tornado jet fighter
On March 26, nuclear disarmament activists in Germany will launch a 20-week-long series of nonviolent protests at the Luftwaffe’s Büchel Air Base, Germany, demanding the withdrawal of 20 U.S. nuclear weapons still deployed there. The actions will continue through August 9, the anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.
For the first time in the 20-year-long campaign to rid Büchel of the U.S. bombs, a delegation of U.S. peace activists will take part. During the campaign’s “international week” July 12 to 18, disarmament workers from Wisconsin, California, Washington, DC, Virginia, Minnesota, New Mexico and Maryland will join the coalition of 50 German peace and justice groups converging on the base. Activists from The Netherlands, France and Belgium also plan to join the international gathering.
The U.S. citizens are particularly shocked that the U.S. government is pursuing production of a totally new H-bomb intended to replace the 20 so-called “B61” gravity bombs now at Büchel, and the 160 others that are deployed in a total of five NATO countries.
Under a NATO scheme called “nuclear sharing,” Germany, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, and The Netherlands still deploy the U.S. B61s, and these governments all claim the deployment does not violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Articles I and II of the treaty prohibit nuclear weapons from being transferred to, or accepted from, other countries.
“The world wants nuclear disarmament,” said US delegate Bonnie Urfer, a long-time peace activist and former staffer with the nuclear watchdog group Nukewatch, in Wisconsin. “To waste billions of dollars replacing the B61s when they should be eliminated is criminal — like sentencing innocent people to death — considering how many millions need immediate famine relief, emergency shelter, and safe drinking water,” Urfer said.
Although the B61’s planned replacement is actually a completely new bomb — the B61-12 — the Pentagon calls the program “modernization” — in order to skirt the NPT’s prohibitions. However, it’s being touted as the first ever “smart” nuclear bomb, made to be guided by satellites, making it completely unprecedented. New nuclear weapons are unlawful under the NPT, and even President Barak Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review required that “upgrades” to the Pentagon’s current H-bombs must not have “new capabilities.” Overall cost of the new bomb, which is not yet in production, is estimated to be up to $12 billion.
Historic German Resolution to Evict US H-bombs
The March 26 start date of “Twenty Weeks for Twenty Bombs” is doubly significant for Germans and others eager to see the bombs retired. First, on March 26, 2010, massive public support pushed Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, to vote overwhelmingly — across all parties — to have the government remove the U.S. weapons from German territory.
Second, beginning March 27 in New York, the United Nations General Assembly will launch formal negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The UNGA will convene two sessions — March 27 to 31, and June 15 to July 7 — to produce a legally binding “convention” banning any possession or use of the bomb, in accordance with Article 6 of the NPT. (Similar treaty bans already forbid poison and gas weapons, land mines, cluster bombs, and biological weapons.) Individual governments can later ratify or reject the treaty. Several nuclear-armed states including the US government worked unsuccessfully to derail the negotiations; and Germany’s current government under Angela Merkel has said it will boycott the negotiations in spite of broad public support for nuclear disarmament.
“We want Germany to be nuclear weapons free,” said Marion Küpker, a disarmament campaigner and organizer with DFG-VK, an affiliate of War Resisters International and Germany’s oldest peace organization, this year celebrating its 125th anniversary. “The government must abide by the 2010 resolution, throw out the B61s, and not replace them with new ones,” Küpker said.
A huge majority in Germany supports both the UN treaty ban and the removal of US nuclear weapons. A staggering 93 percent want nuclear weapons banned, according to a poll commissioned by the German chapter of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War published in March last year. Some 85 percent agreed that the US weapons should be withdrawn from the country, and 88 percent said they oppose US plans to replace current bombs with the new B61-12.
U.S. and NATO officials claim that “deterrence” makes the B61 important in Europe. But as Xanthe Hall reports for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, “Nuclear deterrence is the archetypal security dilemma. You have to keep threatening to use nuclear weapons to make it work. And the more you threaten, the more likely it is that they will be used.”
For more information and to sign a “Declaration of Solidarity.”
Additional information about the B61 and NATO’s “nuclear sharing” at CounterPunch:
“Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Brings Calls for Denuclearization,” July 28, 2016.
“Nuclear Weapons Proliferation: Made in the USA,” May 27, 2015.
“US Defies Conference on Nuclear Weapons Effects & Abolition,” Dec. 15, 2014.
John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.
Speaking from Lattakia, Afraa Dagher discusses topical issues and long term goals for her native Syria
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Syrian political commentator Afraa Dagher. Throughout the conflict she has written pieces on the reality of this much misunderstood war as well as made appearances on a variety of global media outlets, including RT.
She is a patriotic Syrian whose words are deeply valuable to both the friends and foes of Syria, many of whom rely exclusively on non-Syrians for news and analysis about the country and its struggle.
Here is what she had to say.
Adam Garrie: What is your opinion of proposals coming from a number of places, arguing for Syrian federalisation?
Afraa Dagher: To understand why Syrians reject such proposals, one needs to revisit Syrian history. In 1920-1921, in the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon, General Henri Gouraud was appointed representative of the French government in the Middle East and commander of the French Army of the Levant, centred in Syria.
This General divided Syria into small regions, like Aleppo state for example and made the northern part of the mandate a Kurdish majority region in addition to an Alawite region, Druz region..… etc
Under such a pretext, there are inconsistent components. The intention was then as it is now, to break the country’s natural unity, so people wouldn’t be able to unite and counter the occupation!
They took Liwa Iskenderun from Syria in 1937 and in the year 1939 they granted it to Turkey! They also took parts of Damascus and annexed them to Lebanon , as a Christian region, so as to create Lebanon with sectarian and ethnic divides. This was all designed to federate, divide and conquer mother Syria!
Syrians fought this occupation and this federation, until they got their independence in the year 1946.
We must not repeat the painful history of federalisation which will only result in the elimination of this nation,making it fragile and unstable. Then we may then ‘need’ another foreign mandate and foreign forces to keep peace.
This is their devious pretext when it comes to federalisation.
Who could be so naïve to bring this catastrophe to his nation again!
AG: If as expected, the majority of Syrians reject such proposals, how would you expect Russia to act?
AD: I can only say this; it is the Syrians’ right to determine their destiny after more than 6 years of sacrifices. Russia has always said that at the end of the conflict it (the country’s future) would be Syrians’ decision.
AG: What is your view on the cooperation between the SDF ( Syrian Democratic Forces) and the Syrian Arab Army against Turkey and their jihadist FSA?
AD: Such a war with multiple enemies, necessarily imposes various conditions on all sides. The SDF is backed and sponsored by the US and the majority of them are Kurdish along with some foreigners!
The fact that Turkey is the number one enemy of the Kurds and also a considerable invader of Syrian land, perhaps led to cooperation between the Syrian Arab Army and Kurds at this point. However, in other areas when it comes to concepts like the federalisation, I do not think we are going to see such cooperation.
AG: Do you have any faith that the Geneva peace talks will produce anything meaningful?
AD: Here, I will reference the words of our ambassador in the UN, Dr Ja’afari, who asked the western countries to stop wasting their people’s money on supporting terrorists.
Unless all the countries directly related to this war like Turkey, the Arab Gulf, the EU countries and America, stop the financing, training and arming of the so called moderate rebels, all such conferences will be in vain.
AG: Who is Syria’s number one enemy?
AG: What is your view on the US sending in soldiers to aid the SDF?
AD: It is an invasion of our sovereign land. The SDF play the role of alternative/proxy troops for the US and for its project in this region. The same thing happened with Kurds in Iraq, who helped the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. They also played a dirty role in Syria throughout much of the conflict; ” the separatists Kurds”, so to speak.
AG: Who are Syria’s most important allies at this time?
AD: I have to state it vice versa, I would say that Syria is the first and most important ally of the resistance axis. Syria is the great ally against imperialist unipolarity represented by the US! I say this with due respect to our great allies and to their sacrifices.
The United States has recently deployed hundreds of troops to Syria in an apparent bid to assist the looming operation aimed at liberating Raqqa, but Washington will not be able to maintain a permanent military presence in the war-torn country, defense analyst Omar Maaribuni told RIA Novosti.
“Speaking about prospects, I don’t think that Turkey or the United States will be able to maintain their dominance [in northern Syria]. This is due to many factors. The main reason is the resistance which could emerge if American and Turkish forces refuse to withdraw from the region after the war is over,” he said.
In Maaribuni’s opinion, the other reason has to do with Washington’s plans to create a Kurdish canton spanning from the city of Afrin to the Mediterranean. The analyst said that it is impossible to carry out such a project in Syria due to demography and ethnic distribution, which prevent the Kurds from creating a “stable and self-contained” autonomous region on the border with Turkey.
“I think that America’s military presence near Manbij and other cities is temporary. The United States will have to withdraw sooner or later since there are no grounds for them to be there,” the analyst said. “Washington is trying to claim some of the achievement [in the fight against terrorism] as its own at the moment and improve its standing following a series of setbacks that the US has suffered.”
The Obama administration pledged to refrain from sending American boots on the ground in Syria, but later reversed its decision once it became apparent that the US-led coalition was struggling to destroy Daesh. The US has deployed hundreds of special operations troops to the war-torn country to ostensibly train and assist its local allies in their counterterrorism campaigns.
Maaribuni further commented on multilateral efforts aimed at liberating Raqqa, the so-called capital of Daesh’s caliphate. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are the primary force engaged in the operation aimed at pushing the militants out of the city, but the analyst suggested that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) could also make a move towards the brutal group’s key stronghold.
“If the SAA moves towards the city of al-Thawrah after the military operation in Maskanah is over, Damascus-led forces will be able to secure three of its air bases, namely Kuweires, Kashish and al-Thawrah. They will need them for air cover largely provided by attack helicopters. These tactics have been used in the eastern Aleppo province and around Palmyra,” he explained.
Maaribuni suggested that the SAA “could find itself on the verge of the battle for Raqqa” if it has enough aerial support and uses artillery wisely.